Feedback as a selfish act

When feedback is shared, there are three entities who benefit.

  1. The person who receives the feedback: it gives them a new opportunity to introspect and learn.
  2. The group in which the person belongs (such as a relationship, organisation, or team): that group’s culture becomes more healthy and productive as a result of cultivating a higher-trust environment, as well as enabling each individual within the group to improve over time as a result of the feedback shared with them.
  3. The person who gives the feedback.

This post focuses on this third category: that the act of sharing feedback is in fact deeply beneficial to the provider of the feedback.

First, the act of sharing feedback in a high-trust setting creates a reciprocal expectation that you are yourself open to receiving feedback from others and that, to some degree, you expect them to do so. Receiving feedback in this way benefits you in the same way that any introspective receiver of feedback can learn and benefit. The alternative – that the other party is aware of data points about you or the impact you had and chooses not to share that information with you – is a strictly less desirable situation to be in.

Further, despite the act of sharing feedback being (ideally) an objective transactional one, developing the rhythm of sharing feedback regularly helps individuals become vulnerable with each other. This can serve to build upon an existing kernel of trust and deepen the relationship you share with others, and ultimately allows you to focus more on building long-term partnerships and less on transactional interactions. This is both more productive and substantially more enjoyable.

While you ultimately can’t – and often shouldn’t try – to force someone to take a specific action as a result of your feedback, the act of sharing both positive and constructive feedback makes it more likely that they will, in the future, act in a way that is more aligned with what you want. (Or at least, in the reverse case, it’s very unlikely that any pre-existing patterns of behaviour will change if you choose to not share your feedback with them.) Since your feedback will be aligned with your own interests, sharing it effectively can act as an accelerant for your own goals.

Finally, developing a habit of being open with your own feedback as your standard way of working helps to psychologically separate the act of giving feedback about a specific observation and impact, vs imparting judgement about a person or assuming their intent. Over time, the common knowledge that you personally operate in this way keeps your interactions with others in a group high-trust and productive, avoiding the fermenting anxiety arising from confusion that can develop about unspoken judgements.